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Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe [Kindle Edition]

Simon Winder
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A charmingly personal history of Hapsburg Europe, as lively as it is informative, by the author of Germania

For centuries much of Europe and the Holy Roman Empire was in the royal hands of the very peculiar Habsburg family. An unstable mixture of wizards, obsessives, melancholics, bores, musicians and warriors, they saw off--through luck, guile and sheer mulishness--any number of rivals, until finally packing up in 1918. From their principal lairs along the Danube they ruled most of Central Europe and Germany and interfered everywhere--indeed the history of Europe hardly makes sense without the House of Hapsburg.

Danubia, Simon Winder's hilarious new book, plunges the reader into a maelstrom of alchemy, royalty, skeletons, jewels, bear-moats, unfortunate marriages and a guinea-pig village. Full of music, piracy, religion and fighting, it is the history of a strange dynasty, and the people they ruled, who spoke many different languages, lived in a vast range of landscapes, believed in rival gods and often showed a marked ingratitude towards their oddball ruler in Vienna. Readers who discovered Simon Winder's storytelling genius and infectious curiosity in Germania will be delighted by the eccentric and fascinating tale of the Habsburgs and their world.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The Habsburg Empire was a ramshackle, lumbering old giant centered in the Danube Valley that held a central place in European politics from the Middle Ages to the end of WWI, ruled by the dominant dynasty of Europe for four centuries, the Habsburg family. Winder set out to wander through the lands that used to constitute the empire, describing and reflecting on what he sees now, particularly in terms of the appearance of villages, towns, and cities, and what he knows through his research as to how things used to look when the Habsburgs held sway. The sentiment around which he builds his colorful narrative is that the longevity of the Habsburg dynasty was due to a mix of cunning, dimness, luck and brilliance. (About one particular archduke, Winder says, he was one of the Habsburgs who make the family worthwhile, who make up for all the pious timeservers who congest the family tree.) This personalized, almost you-are-there view of history results in an arresting combination of anecdote and scholarly examination, where the interests of serious armchair travelers and devoted students of European history meet. --Brad Hooper


Thorough and funny . . . Rich with anecdotes and enthusiastic appreciation. (The New Yorker)

[Winder] never stops talking and rarely pauses for breath. Even then, however, you want to tell him: Forget about breathing and just go on talking. Danubia is a long book, yet this reader would not mind if it were longer still. (Andrew Wheatcroft, The New York Times Book Review)

An engaging, often funny catalog of one man's eccentric enthusiasm for a country that he has come to love--somewhat to his own surprise . . . Winder is an entertaining writer, and an erudite one. (Ian Brunskill, The Wall Street Journal)

A delightfully personal and engaging book . . . Winder's knowledge is as encyclopedic as his enthusiasm is childlike. (Roger K. Miller, The Denver Post)

In a rollicking book that is part travelogue and part history, Winder takes up the unwieldy topic of the Habsburgs. The sprawling family empire ruled much of Europe for more than centuries, owing to a combination of 'cunning, dimness, luck, and brilliance.' From the Middle Ages until the end of the First World War, Winder writes, 'there was hardly a twist in Europe's history to which they did not contribute.' Winder, whose best-seller Germania took a similar approach to German history, explores the story of the dynasty and the lasting imprint of its reign by travelling the expanse of its former empire and giving a lively account of his research. He is thorough and funny, and the book is rich with anecdotes and enthusiastic appreciation, and it includes a broad survey of the artifacts and landscapes that tell the story of the family that laid the foundation of modern Europe. (Andrea Denhoed, Page-Turner, The New Yorker online)

Making five centuries of Habsburg history fun seems like a tall order, but Winder pulls it off. He entertains because he is entertained . . . With unrelenting wit--sometimes smirking but also self-mocking--he traces the Habsburgs' fortunes . . . What gives the text verve is Winder's ability to interweave the eccentric details of the Habsburgs themselves with an absorbing cultural history, driven by his exuberant passion for the lives and music of great composers and textured by his skillful physical descriptions of forgotten corners of the realm. (Foreign Affairs)

As with his previous work Germania, Winder describes this account as a 'personal history', allowing him space for whimsy, for a great deal of Haydn, for careful analysis of paintings and the freedom to favour certain emperors because they were interesting people rather than political heavyweights. It all makes for an excellent, rich and amusing read. (Roger Boyes, The Times (UK))

Winder is a puppishly enthusiastic companion: funny, erudite, frequently irritating, always more in control of his material than he pretends to be, and never for a moment boring . . . Danubia is a moving book, and also a sensuous one: we feel the weight of imperial coins, hear and smell the 'medals and spurs clinking and everything awash in expensive gentleman's fragrances' as emperors and regiments meet at formal occasions. Winder says he researched it largely on foot, seeking out museums and castles, and listened to all 106 Haydn symphonies just to get in the mood . . . Miniaturist in its eye for detail, grand in its scope, it skips beats and keeps our attention all the way. (Sarah Bakewell, The Financial Times)

Winder's amalgam of travelogue and personal history follows on from his bestselling account of Germany, Germania, and is similarly infectious in its enthusiasms. In pages of cheerful, slang-dotted prose, Danubia dilates knowledgeably on the Habsburg dynasty as it flourished along the river from its source in Bavarian hills through Austro-Hungary and the Balkans to the Black Sea . . . Danubia is a hoot and well worth reading. (Ian Thomson, The Independent (UK))

[Winder's] personalized, almost you-are-there view of history results in an arresting combination of anecdote and scholarly examination, where the interests of serious armchair travelers and devoted students of European history meet. (Brad Hooper, Booklist)

Product Details

  • File Size: 7086 KB
  • Print Length: 577 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0374175292
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 21, 2014)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,061 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book April 7, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
How can one person have so much history and minutiae in his mind? I learned so much about the Habsburg lands which, as Winder points out, get less attention from English speakers than their Northern German speaking neighbors because the Empire never had a truly antagonistic relationship with the UK or the USA and they barely fought during the major wars even when members of opposing alliances. Winder has written a truly engrossing, serious yet frequently hilarious narrative from a non-academic viewpoint. These sort of books are rare. Usually non-academic history is either at best breezy and popular or long form cliff-notes. I wish there were more people like Winder that could write similar history/ travel books like Danubia. In fact, I wish there were more people like him in real life that I could talk to about this stuff.

The style of the book is somewhat original (or depending on your point of view idiosyncratic). I can imagine some readers will not appreciate the sudden changes in focus from a panoramic view of the grand stage of European History to a minute discussion of some museum piece or work of art. For example he goes from discussions of urbanization's effect on Nationalism in the late 19th Century to a description of a guinea pig village in a zoo in Budapest. The reader has to use his mind to find the links which I am sure exist, but nevertheless is not a mental exercise that I feel has much urgency nor resonance for the average contemporary reader. Danubia defies easy categorization and it's a book about a somewhat obscure section of Europe for most English speakers produced in an age when interest in foreign lands and their history seems to be in decline.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fated to END ! April 11, 2014
By Gerald
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Winder pens a historical travelouge, a perfect history of the Habsburgs, who squated over
Central Europe for centuries,,, odd people, clinging to antiquated ideas, WInder takes you to
Galicai, BOhemia, Slovakai, Vienna, Brno, Prague and Krawkow. a perfect history, rich, colorful,
violent, only beef is needs MORE MAPS ! buy this and book a trip to Budapest !
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but totally chaotic and confusing April 22, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The subject matter is truly interesting and Winder's use of language is excellent, but this book totally lacks any sense of cohesion. One minute Winder is discussing listening to music at home, the next he's talking about Franz Joseph, then nationalism, then wooden villages in Poland, then you're in a 21st century museum in Vienna.

I love history and majored in it, but I rarely had any clue what period Winder was discussing, he jumps around so much from the present to the past and all over the world with no sense of reason. This book is often brilliant, but it can also be very challenging and not in the best way.
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53 of 68 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A very clever book... October 27, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
But far too clever for me...

Beware; the title states 'Danubia. A Personal History of Habsburg Europe'. With emphasis on 'Personal'. Much of the book deals with the author's visits to places mentioned in the history and his personal reactions. And discussion of his reaction to the music and literature of the times and area.

There's a lot that's worth reading, such as the penultimate chapter dealing with the collapse caused by the Great War. There's also a lot of padding, which is tedious to read. And also careless errors, such as the statement that von Schlieffen died in 1906 (he actually retired then and actually died in 1913).

The book, at least in the eBook version, would be considerably improved if the author had set up a website with photos of the locations he describes. And provided links to the website in the text.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining trip through the world of the Habsburgs February 12, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
HIdden inside the Soviet block for many years, this part of Europe has a forgotten history that is very relevant to our world today.

Winder's points out the dangers of petty nationalism while still engaging the reader in a lively history of a very dangerous part of the world.

The fact that two of my grandparents were born in the realm of the Habsburgs makes it all the more interesting to me.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exuberant History That Is Fun Reading April 28, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Simon Winder has written a vast and sprawling history of a part of Europe most of us know relatively little about, a region defined by the Danube River, which flows though or is adjacent to most of it, and by its association with the Habsburgs, a weird family which ruled all or most of this area, usually ineptly, for half a millennium until deposed at the end of World War I in 1918. What makes "Danubia" different from many histories is that Winder wanders throughout the region, acquainting the reader with the ebbs and flows of conquest, the religious battles and the cultures of the different parts .And he does so with a flair.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps I should have taken more notice of the title March 18, 2014
I really enjoy reading history through people's lives so I read a lot of biographies. I had recently finished Winston Churchill's 'The Last Lion' set and The Assassination of the Archduke by King and Woolmans so I thought I'd enjoy this book which I thought was a history of the Austro- Hungarian Empire through the ages.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get into it at all. I couldn't find any structure to it anywhere and I tried to start the book in several different places.

Personal is the word here. Although I'm sure there are plenty of facts, I found the authors scathing comments, about most things that occurred over several hundred years, rather irritating. I'm not sure what there is to enjoy about this book. After about 6 starts It got put into the charity bin..
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating history
Blowing the dust off of history. This a rare kind of book, history written not as something guaranteed to put you to sleep in five minutes. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Theresa May
4.0 out of 5 stars A great but long read
Came across this book having read and loved Germania. I found this book fascinating as it was practically a whole host of European History that I didn't even know existed and it... Read more
Published 1 month ago by DavevanK
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps more than you wanted to know but dig in ....
It took me awhile to plow through this book and there were parts that certainly put me to sleep but I did increase my storehouse of knowledge of the Hapsburg Empire. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Bob Walch
5.0 out of 5 stars Great view of eastern European history!
What a terrific history and a real good look at a piece of European history in the shadows for most of us. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Annie Hannan
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Item arrived in good condition and in a timely manner. "Danubia" was an entertaining, enjoyable read.
Published 2 months ago by Sassy
5.0 out of 5 stars The United States of Austria
In his previous book "Germania," Simon Winder took us on a personal tour through his obsession with Germany in all its various states (from a collection of nominally... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Trevor Seigler
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable book. The maps were extremely helpful, ...
Very enjoyable book. The maps were extremely helpful, although I would have appreciated a few more to chart the ebb and flow of boundary lines and populace. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Paul Reiss
5.0 out of 5 stars A personal and historical ramble through the Danube. A superb book,...
As with Winder's earlier book Germania, if you like his rambly style of personally exploring the physical scenes of history, mixed with some thoughtful rumination and some... Read more
Published 2 months ago by lyndonbrecht
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a phenomenal book about a complex area of ...
This is a phenomenal book about a complex area of Europe with a complex history. Simon Winder's humour and his personal, even private observations are a welcome leavening of the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Karel Kovanda
5.0 out of 5 stars Boldly go where no one really wanted to go before
Winder is an extremely erudite, entertaining guide, a bit like Bill Bryson (in NOTES ON A SMALL ISLAND), funny, but highly informed and informative. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Bruce Kendall
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